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(KSAT) – In a rare softening of hostile relations, Venezuela freed on Saturday seven imprisoned Americans in exchange for the United States releasing two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s wife who had been jailed for years on narcotics convictions.
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The swap of the Americans, including five oil executives held for nearly five years, follows months of back channel diplomacy by senior U.S. officials — secretive talks with a major oil producer that took on greater urgency after sanctions on Russia put pressure on global energy prices.
The deal amounts to an unusual gesture of goodwill by Maduro as the socialist leader looks to rebuild relations with the U.S. after vanquishing most of his domestic opponents. While the White House denied any change in policy toward Venezuela is afoot, the freeing of Americans could create political space for the Biden administration to ease crippling oil sanctions on Venezuela if Maduro shows progress in on-again, off-again talks with his opponents.